OUR SELF-FEEDING JOURNEY: PART 2

Welcome back peeps… I hope you enjoyed reading Part 1 of our self-feeding journey and could get yourself prepared for it. In this part, I intend to discuss what exactly I did with Dhanya. So let us start with a small story 😉

28 years back there was a very chubby little girl.  She was even weighing more than needed that the ped asked her grandma to cut down on milk. She was like THE CHUBBY KID which many crave for. But, what she ate? Just Ragi porridge and milk. Did she eat veggies, fruits etc.? NO. For how long did she have poor eating habits? Almost until 8th grade. Now, wondering who was this child? ME ME ME. I did not want Dhanya to be me with her eating habits. My primary focus was to get Dhanya interested in food and not be stressed at meal times. I wanted her to be open to all flavors, of course, she can have likes and dislikes.

One thing I followed was that whenever I wanted to introduce something new to her, I never offered her. Instead, I used to sit and eat in front of her. Children have a natural curiosity. I decided to use that. Dhanya became super curious with me eating so much variety in front of her. She started asking for it. Some she liked, some she didn’t. If she liked, she would come back and ask for more, if she didn’t she would just walk away. I was fine with both. This is how I introduced omelette , fish, chicken, channa varieties, upma, toasts and many more. Now she just tries if I feed her anything new directly. Previously everything from idli, dosa all were mashed for her. Also every day the same menu. Now nothing at all. Although not every day, I offer her a lot of variety over the week. You may even try offering your favorites. My aunt told parents’ eating habits tend to get imbibed to some extent. It has been true in our case. Dhanya and I share a lot of common likes and similarly, neither of us are fond of rice, although it is a staple food in the entire family. I always like to have food with less salt and spice. So as such I offer Dhanya the same now. She is completely on family food.

I started offering her most favorite first to self-feed. It was banana. I just cut them into circles and put in front of her on her feeding tray and she gobbled them up. So finger foods like boiled carrots, apples, bananas are your best bet. Please check the size and texture appropriate to your kids age and offer accordingly. I then started offering Dosa and Rotis. Since there was no distraction, she was getting bored if we fed her and started turning her head away although she was hungry. So I just tore the roti into pieces and placed it in front of her. To my surprise, she ate the whole roti all be herself. However, please note during this process, she held the roti, squeezed it and tortured it in whatever way she wanted and ate it. I then realized that the bite sizes I was offering her weren’t comfortable for her and she wanted to do what suits her. So that’s how we shifted to self-feeding everything except rice.

Here are a few of my learnings that might help you:

TEXTURE & VARIETY: My first focus was to introduce Dhanya to a variety of textures and flavors. Self-feeding was all secondary to me. My primary focus was to get Dhanya interested in food and not be stressed at meal times. The main reason for this was ME ME ME. I grew up eating only ragi porridge, cerelac and milk until 3 years. Not to blame my grandma, she did try. But I never budged. So what big deal? I grew up with pathetic eating habits- never ate any veggies, hated rice etc. Till 8th grade, my breakfast was rasam rice 80% of the time. I improved later. Now I am much much better at eating. I did not want that with Dhanya. I wanted her to be open to all flavors, of course, she can have likes and dislikes. One thing I followed here was that whenever I wanted to introduce something new to her, I never offered her. Instead, I used to sit and eat in front of her. Children have a natural curiosity. I decided to use that. Dhanya became super curious with me eating so much variety in front of her. She started asking for it. Some she liked, some she didn’t. If she liked, she would come back and ask for more, if she didn’t she would just walk away. I was fine with both. This is how I introduced omelette , fish, chicken, channa varieties, upma, toasts and many more. Previously everything from idli, dosa all were mashed for her. Also every day the same menu. Now nothing at all. Although not every day, I offer her a lot of variety over the week. You may even try offering your favorites. My aunt told parents’ eating habits tend to get imbibed to some extent. It has been true in our case. Dhanya and I share a lot of common likes and similarly, neither of us are fond of rice much although it is a staple food in the entire family. I always like to have food with less salt and spice. So as such I offer Dhanya the same now. She is completely on family food.

SITTING: Every baby has a preference. Not all babies prefer high chairs and booster seats. With Dhanya, she was fine with a booster seat, but if it was tied to a chair, she was very much engrossed in understanding gravity a.k.a throwing food 😉 So I removed the booster seat and put it on the floor directly. I too sit down and eat with her. She started focusing on the food and even cleanup was easier for me.

EMOTIONS: Our emotions play a major role in our child’s eating. If they throw/smear the food, just a NO is enough. No shouting/getting sad. Similarly with laughing if they eat. This is because if we react, they start doing things for that reaction. I never look at Dhanya while eating. Still, she does take the food to her head at times. But then, if I just keep eating my own food she looks at me and brings it to her mouth and eats it. To me, my only job is to offer food. To start with, offer each bite on the tray. If the whole meal is in front of the child, the focus might be more on playing.

QUANTITY: I understand that we need not emphasize quantity. They have to decide. But, I was worried when she ate only 4 or 5 pieces. So for this, my ped aunt suggested to try feeding her for another 10 mins or so. No force feeding/pleading/distraction. Just feed and see. If they eat, fine. If they keep on turning away the head, just wrap it up. So I followed this instead of wrapping up once she doesn’t self-feed. Sometimes she ate, sometimes she didn’t. Please note that she did not start eating one full dosa immediately. First, it was 4-5 pieces in the mouth and rest on the floor or saying no. But now she feeds even 1 dosa/ 2 rotis all by herself IF SHE IS HUNGRY. So, now I know that if she is hungry she will definitely eat.

-RICE FEEDING: Pre-loaded spoons worked great for us to start with. The first few days she did pick up the spoon, but held it with both hands, so the rice kept sticking to her left-hand too.There was a lot of mess, but then she picked it up fine and her hand to mouth coordination improved a lot. Now she can eat from the bowl herself. Some tips:

– Ensure solid consistency. I do this. Even if she throws the spoon down, usually food doesn’t fall down. The mess definitely reduces. So do not give up. It took only two weeks for us and now the mess takes hardly 5-10 mins to clean up. Invest in a full sleeve baby apron, if you can. You may reduce the number of meal sessions you offer rice if mess worries you. She previously used to have rice for breakfast and lunch. Screenshot_20191101-153037But now, she has rice only for breakfast. Lunch is roti usually. This solves the problem of both mess and variety.For Dhanya I have noticed that offering milk once she wakes up actually keeps her full and breakfast is a messy play . But if I skip her morning milk, she eats her breakfast much better. Basically she needs to be hungry. So I give her milk only if she wakes up 2 hrs before breakfast. Else I give the milk sometime after breakfast. This also helps in case she didn’t eat properly that day and is hungry. She is a milk lover. She will drink it whatever time I give it. So a little change to make her eat breakfast well.

Eating habits vary a lot based on weather and geographical conditions. It is cold here and even I feel more hungry here. It may not be the same case in certain parts of India. Your only job is to help them learn the skill of eating and knowing their hunger.

Self-feeding has made meal times stress free for us. Even on the messiest days cleanup has taken me only 15 minutes at max. It is much better than sitting and getting stressed for the entire meal time. Please remember MESS is much better than the STRESS. Traveling has become a breeze. I have traveled internationally when she was 13 months old and now at 23 months. I can see how much my stress level has reduced with her improved eating habits. (Also lesser food to pack as she even ate the in-flight food 🙂 )

Ending the blog with an important note/request: If you are a caregiver supporting some parent who is aiming to get their child self-feed, please DO NOT discourage them saying we didn’t do like this, baby will lose weight etc. It does not happen. Do not force the child and the parent, creating stress for both. If there is someone to support, self-feeding journey becomes even more enjoyable. I could not have done this if at all my husband and father were not supportive. The initial days were quite tough with more mess, but they also stuck with it as they could see her learning. However, if at all you are not happy with the process, then best IGNORE rather than passing TAUNTING COMMENTS 🙂

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